An Open Letter to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Council Members:
We are parents of a kind, caring, adult son. Family and community have always been very important to him.
A few months ago, our son, who is white, wanted to do his part to protest violent treatment of people of color by police in Salt Lake City and elsewhere. What we have seen, through videos and photos from Salt Lake City protests, has shocked us as parents.
From videos and multiple TV newscasts July 9, we see: Young people being repeatedly clubbed by Salt Lake City police swinging clubs like baseball bats. Dozens of police, charging and clubbing.
Later, photos of young people with huge purple bruises on their arms and legs. One young man was clubbed so hard by police that his knee was dislocated.
We see photos of a young woman protester in the hospital later. Her face is caked with dried blood. Her nose has been smashed and broken. There is a gaping, hideous, approximately 2-inch hole in her thigh. Our son tells us Salt Lake City police officers smashed her face with a shield then shot her at point blank range with a type of ammunition called a “bean bag round.” Bean bag rounds are banned in cities like Austin, Texas, after their use by police caused gruesome, life-threatening injuries.
TV coverage shows Salt Lake City police aiming military-looking guns at protestors dozens of times.
This is not security. This is terror.
Let’s review what happened: Two people broke some windows and several others painted a street and a government building. That is not violence. It is vandalism — symbolic and easily reversed. It is “the language of the unheard,” to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And what did Salt Lake City Police Chief Brown do? He instigated — then escalated — militarized violence against unarmed protestors, thus proving their point.
Even Salt Lake City protestors’ actions after the Floyd/Taylor deaths in May, which entailed targeted property damage including burning of a police car, do not begin to justify Brown’s barbaric attacks.
Mayor, your joint press conference with Chief Brown on Aug. 3, to announce that Salt Lake City will soon have “the most … progressive police department in the country” was stupefying — indeed, almost childish — in its naïveté. Engaging in talk of “de-escalation” and “building trust” while Brown stands by your side, is simply insulting to your citizens’ intelligence.
Here’s what’s needed to save lives and prevent police violence in Salt Lake City:
1) Systemic, authentic change. Both Chief Brown and his partner-in-brutality, the police union, need to be shut down — immediately — before one more person is needlessly injured or killed. They are a danger to your city. Simple as that. When the union strikes, use that as an opportunity to remake your force from the ground up. Hire a chief and staff with the right mindset. Together, Brown and the union are the problem, don’t you get it?
2) Significant reduction of Salt Lake City Police Department budget.
3) Data. Assign staff member to collect weekly, evidence-based “Use of Force” data directly from civilians, supplemented with police statistics. Allowing police to compile is a ridiculous conflict of interest. Information is power. Gather it.
4) Enact clear laws that jail police for violent offenses using same standards used for civilians. If anything, the bar against violence should be higher for police.
Your base is fed up. They will not vote for you again unless you quickly and decisively change course.
Your choice, mayor and council.
Elizabeth and Robert Corker, Hailey, Idaho, are parents of Robert Corker, who has peacefully protested police brutality night after night in Salt Lake City. Their son is employed in Salt Lake City and is a senior at Westminster College.